Men and women from this Seventh Day Adventist congregation take turns giving a talk as part of the worship service. Today’s leader is the spitting image of my uncle, a retired geologist whose full beard and lanky frame belies a more conservative interior. This version’s right pant leg is still cinched from biking. He begins his talk with a slide show from a recent hike. He clicks through shots of mountains and boulders and lakes. He stops on a screen with a quote from Psalms, “Seek ye my face.” With tears in his eyes, he tells us: “Mrs. White wrote that the natural world offers a front row seat on the face of God.”
He clicks through to a slide of sunlight reflected in ripples of water. He wipes his eyes, “To quote White: ‘God is love’ is written upon every opening bud, upon every spire of springing grass.” He turns to take in his own photo. He says, “Look how beautiful it is…” so earnestly that I feel a lump form in my throat.
The service culminates in a big feast, or what the program calls a “fellowship meal.” We file into the kitchen area where someone has set out no fewer than 20 dishes. It’s a vegetarian smorgasbord. I have never seen so many variations of zucchini in one place. I fill my plate and take a seat with everyone else at a long table, family style. I can almost imagine that beyond these walls the earth has been destroyed but we faithful are happily eating the yummy produce from our post-apocalyptic gardens. If I should survive such a catastrophic event, this wouldn’t be bad company to keep.
Like much in this denomination, the end result is progressive; though, I’m not certain if the same can be said of the logic used to get there. White encouraged congregants to give up tobacco and alcohol not for health reasons but because these items “stirred up animal passions.” She promoted vegetarianism, not to prevent the killing of animals but because she believed meat carried “disease-producing humors.” She argued that women should trade in their street-scraping dresses for shorter skirts worn over pantaloons. She intended for women to stay healthy to better honor God, but her fashion suggestions allowed for freer movement.
Different paths can lead to the same spot. I generally think of organic gardening and veganism as ways of life for those on the left end of the political spectrum, but here I’m learning it can also be part of a conservative Christian vision, a step toward recreating Eden on earth. I’ve often considered Jesus a symbol for those on the right, but much of what he stood for is embraced by the left.
If we are lucky, we end up together in a place where the beauty of the world breaks our hearts and we are overwhelmed with gratitude.
It makes me wonder if there isn’t more common ground than I think.